Bishop John Tong Hon became the first Hong Kong-born Cardinal at a consistory conducted in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican by Pope Benedict XVI on February 18, 2012. While he is the seventh Chinese Cardinal and the third to be bishop of Hong Kong, as the first to be locally born, his induction into the College of Cardinals has a special significance in what is the largest Chinese diocese in the world.
The newly elevated Cardinal Tong told the Hong Kong media at an open press conference on March 2, that it is more an honor for and recognition of the importance of the Church in China, as well as its special administrative region of Hong Kong.
At the age of 72, he is also the only Chinese cardinal of working age. Cardinal Tong described himself to the media as being a pastoral bishop, saying that it would be business as usual, but more so, as the insignia color red of a Cardinal, is also the color of a martyr’s blood and calls for greater dedication and courage.
He placed great stress on the role that Hong Kong plays as a bridge Church with mainland China, while noting that with the more open policy of Beijing, there is a lot more two-way exchange between the China Church and the outside world than in days gone by.
Historically, he roughly divided the attitude of Beijing towards religion into two eras, one marked by severe repression prior to 1980 followed by a time of increasing tolerance.
“I believe there will be wider developments in the future. It has been a period of more tolerance. It allows some legitimate activities,” the newly-created cardinal continued.
“China is a big place and attitudes vary, but overall there is a gradual movement for the better. I remain optimistic,” he noted.
He said he believes there is a need to create a society for the betterment of all, especially the poor and the marginalized. However, at a time of tension between mainstream society and the 320,000 imported domestic workers in the city, which is seeing newspapers littered with grumbling articles of migrant litter in the streets and parks on Sundays and prophecies of doom and gloom over the possibility of them being granted the right to apply for permanent residency, the cardinal raised a prophetic voice.
“I have always encouraged our Catholic schools and parishes to offer them hospitality,” he said, not only in provision of the Sacraments, but to give space, so they can come together in dignity and grow as children of God.”
He stressed, “In the Church there are no strangers.”
Columban Fr. Jim Mulroy lives and works in Hong Kong.